Pharos-Tribune

September 20, 2013

OUR VIEW: Keeping lid on nonprofit food


Pharos-Tribune

---- — Not a day goes by that our paper doesn’t print some sort of community event that involves food. From fish fries to fresh doughnuts to spaghetti dinners to chicken and noodles, there’s no shortage of goods eats in the area.

Not only do these type of events provide an opportunity to come together as a community, they are also an invaluable part of fundraising for churches and nonprofits. They’re also currently the source of scrutiny from the state.

On the heels of legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, the Indiana State Department of Health is looking for ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses at these events.

The trick will be to find a balance between providing for public safety without regulating them into oblivion.

Part of the problem is the state has confusing and conflicting food-safety laws. Some nonprofit organizations fall under the law’s jurisdiction but others do not.

You might be asking yourself, what’s the big fuss all about? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there were more than 5 million people hospitalized, and 149 deaths, due to the norovirus in 2011. Another 19,336 were hospitalized due to salmonella poisoning, which claimed 378 lives.

Both the norovirus and salmonella poisoning are direct results of improper food handling and preparation. Because there isn’t regulation and there’s a general lack of safe food handling training, these problems often creep in at community events.

We think what’s needed to curb the problem is a big helping of awareness, with a pinch of regulation.

Event organizers need to be taught the basics of food-safety rules in order to reduce food-contamination outbreaks that lead to illness, hospitalizations and deaths. There should be a point person for every event who knows these rules and oversees the preparation of food.

Indiana law already requires all restaurants and other “food establishments” to have a certified food handler on staff to oversee food safety matters and to act as an educator for employees about safe food-handling practices.

Establishing a similar practice for nonprofits is a lot less of a hurdle than putting these organizations through the rigmarole of food inspections.

What we don’t want is for the Legislature to regulate church potlucks and fundraiser dinners to the point of killing them.

Yes, some oversight is needed, but let’s not go crazy.

THE ISSUE OUR VIEW